World championship leader Dani Pedrosa edged out title rivals Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner to top the timesheets in the opening free practice session in Le Mans this morning.
The Repsol Honda rider, who has finished on the podium in each of the opening four races, clocked a best time of 1:34.646 to pip injured factory Yamaha rider Lorenzo by just 0.133sec.
Pedrosa left his attack late, surging to the top of the timesheets with just a minute remaining to deny Fiat Yamaha rider Lorenzo a morale-boosting and heroic top spot.
A lap of 1:34.779 set with 11 minutes remaining put Lorenzo on top of the timesheets as he battled the pain of fractures in both ankles after his spectacular high-side crash in Shanghai earlier this month.
Lorenzo proved that despite his injuries that left him a wheelchair for nearly a fortnight, he is going to be a major contender when he jumped into second spot just before the halfway stage. He finished second with team-mate and China winner Rossi in third.
His Fiat Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi only forced his way into the top three in the final five minutes as he tries to rub salt into Michelin’s wounds on Sunday by winning for Bridgestone in France.
The Italian clocked a best of 1:34.886, which was 0.240secs slower than Pedrosa. Reigning world champion Stoner was fourth quickest as he posted a best time of 1.34.967.
That left the Aussie 0.321s adrift of Pedrosa as he looks to bounce back from a shaky spell that has seen without a win in three races.
Fifth place went to Tech 3 Yamaha rider Colin Edwards, who posted a best of 1:35.319. The American had figured prominently throughout the session and for long periods he led the way.
Sixth quickest was 2007 Le Mans winner Chris Vermeulen, while British rider James Toseland ended his first session at the historic French venue down in 10th. Toseland clocked a fastest time of 1:35.874, which was 1.228secs off Pedrosa’s pace.
Home favourite Sylvain Guintoli continues to have a nightmare on the Alice Ducati GP8 as he crashed after just three minutes at the Chemin aux Boeufs chicane. He walked away unhurt but finished the session 18th and last.
Marco Melandri, Lorenzo, and Pedrosa all had off-track excursions, with Italian Melandru left languishing down in 15th place.
French MotoGP first free practice results:
1 Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team HONDA 1'34.646
2 Jorge LORENZO SPA Fiat Yamaha Team YAMAHA 1'34.779
3 Valentino ROSSI ITA Fiat Yamaha Team YAMAHA 1'34.886
4 Casey STONER AUS Ducati Marlboro Team DUCATI 1'34.967
5 Colin EDWARDS USA Tech 3 Yamaha YAMAHA 1'35.319 14 21 0.673 0.352 272.9
6 Chris VERMEULEN AUS Rizla Suzuki MotoGP SUZUKI 1'35.502
7 Andrea DOVIZIOSO ITA JiR Team Scot MotoGP HONDA 1'35.574
8 Shinya NAKANO JPN San Carlo Honda Gresini HONDA 1'35.672
9 John HOPKINS USA Kawasaki Racing Team KAWASAKI 1'35.743
10 James TOSELAND GBR Tech 3 Yamaha YAMAHA 1'35.874
11 Loris CAPIROSSI ITA Rizla Suzuki MotoGP SUZUKI 1'35.968
12 Alex DE ANGELIS RSM San Carlo Honda Gresini HONDA 1'36.059
13 Randy DE PUNIET FRA LCR Honda MotoGP HONDA 1'36.134
14 Nicky HAYDEN USA Repsol Honda Team HONDA 1'36.144
15 Marco MELANDRI ITA Ducati Marlboro Team DUCATI 1'36.359
16 Anthony WEST AUS Kawasaki Racing Team KAWASAKI 1'36.418
17 Toni ELIAS SPA Alice Team DUCATI 1'36.756
18 Sylvain GUINTOLI FRA Alice Team DUCATI 1'37.421